American OO Today

The online magazine on the history and operation of vintage scale model trains in American OO gauge

Saturday, August 27, 2016

OO Reefers, done right

A number of makers sold refrigerator car kits in American OO, many of them being not too visually successful.

Why? The central problem is that the typical prototype reefer has a height of around 13’ 4” but the typical steel boxcar is 15’ tall. For an OO scale model this is an actual difference of 7MM (!) which is quite visible. The problem is that most OO makers used what were really boxcar bodies in reefer kits, which were supplied with reefer sides and other details. This first photo shows the difference pretty clearly. The tall model was built by me some years ago from an Eastern kit, built as carefully as possible, and I have never been happy with it. At the time I built it I thought the body was too tall and it is, I should have shortened the model. The shorter model also has printed Famoco/Eastern sides, but put on a body that is the correct height – with some great upgrades such as working reefer hatches.

The builder of the shorter, prototypical model was James Trout. He did the job right. I am also happy to share this second group of PFE reefers which he also built. They are all different and I believe are meant to reflect accurately different classes of reefers. As always, click on the photo for a better view.

As noted in the previous article, Trout was a Disney illustrator. At first I was thinking maybe the sides were silk screened, they are not commercial sides and were not lettered with decals, but with a closer look I believe that they were entirely hand decorated. The logos, the small lettering, everything! He had the hand and skills to do it, and the result is eye popping. They look wonderful in a train on the layout.

Back to the topic of reefers built from kits, S-C reefers are a bit tall as are Nason. The latter (depending on the body – they vary) is closest to accurate for OO, as the early PRR boxcar body they based their bodies on is not 15’ tall. In any case, the down side here of the arrival of these Trout reefers is most of the other reefers I have now don’t look “good enough” on the layout. For once I am thankful that the layout is small!

Monday, August 8, 2016

An ATSF Caboose and Boxcar

Two cars in a group recently received are these fine examples of scratch building in American OO. Both are ATSF models built by James Trout. His name has only come up one time in this website to this point, in this article, where a 1950 reference is made to his fine ATSF locomotives. I have one of these models and will come back to those in a future article. In the OO rosters put together by Temple Nieter he was always listed as James Trout but he actually had a professional name, Jimi Trout, and was an artist for Disney for more than 40 years. His OO models show some serious skill and are worth a close look.

First up is the caboose. I first saw this on a list from his son I wondered if it would be a simple ATSF lettering job on a S-C or Lionel caboose. No! This is a completely scratch built model and is of the distinctive ATSF design. Look first at the trucks; they are not commercial products (that still roll great) and are prototype specific. Then start looking around. There are a lot of details to feast your eyes on. The body is metal, the windows are real glass and then see inside? It has a full interior that is very difficult to see with the small windows. The roof can’t be removed, either, it is a detail you have to really work to see. A final detail to mention, the lettering is not decals, with the skills he had as a Disney illustrator he painted the lettering by hand.

The other car that I will focus on today is this boxcar. On first glance it looks like a nicely built up Eastern or Famoco car. But look closer, those are Scale-Rail Industries sides and this is not your average boxcar. Starting up top, the roof walks are not wood strip, they are of the metal grate type that is almost never seen on OO cars. The roof itself has the raised panels between the familiar Eastern/Famoco ribs. The doors are Eastern/Famoco as are the ladders. The underframe is made from shapes and the AB type brakes are visible under the car. The Andrews trucks are Nason (square bolster) and I believe are a choice on his part to be prototype specific. Finally note the good match of the paint, which is no easy thing to do today (especially with Floquil off the market) but he managed this easily I believe with his art background.

Both do show some effect from the long storage. I will clean both a bit more but then again, it does pass for weathering to a point! Every few weeks I will focus on a couple more of these cars, displaying craftsmanship worth taking a close look at.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Two Early American OO Models by Temple Nieter

Frequent readers of this site should be familiar with the name Temple Nieter. If not, he was a pioneer in American OO who promoted OO enthusiastically until his passing in 1984. A series of three articles that starts here is a good place to start for an overview. I own only one Temple Nieter model, a reefer, described in this article.

That reefer provides a good comparison to these two Nieter models, a boxcar and a reefer, in photographs shared by reader Lon Walker. I will start with the boxcar. The Lake Line was the personal road of Temple Nieter and the car is neatly hand-lettered. Note that the model is an X29 PRR boxcar. This is significant as Nieter actually advertised this very model for sale. Production must have been very limited (Nieter was an electrical engineer by profession), but whatever was sold should be a very similar model, it is worth looking your collection over to see if you can find another car of the same type. The doors look to maybe be Nason castings though, perhaps added at a slightly later date. The ends of both cars are plain.

Looking at the bottom we see a couple more significant things. So let’s say he built this car around 1934. Note that the trucks and couplers are not commercial products (as always, click on the photo for a closer view). The couplers are the same as those on my reefer, they are a design bent out of sheet metal, a design inspired at least by another pioneer, Howard Winther (see his couplers in this article, along with a little drawing by Temple Nieter of how the couplers were made).  The trucks are very similar to the trucks on early Winther freight cars as well. For a pretty good view of a Winther truck see this article; it is actually possible that Winther made the castings for Nieter.

Turning to the reefer, the sides are lettered differently, this one being the more interesting side. My Niether reefer was clearly rebuilt and lettered with decals at some later point (and lost the early trucks), but this one seems to be all original or closer to it at least with the hand lettered sides. Note the early trucks again and the same style of coupler is present. The hatches, not seen clearly in these photos posted, look like they are likely Nason castings.

Back to the couplers, seen again in this final bottom view, what Nieter noted to me of the design was as follows:

Before my filed SC type [he used a modified SC coupler on his layout that was filed slightly so it would couple automatically] there was Howard Winthers’ made of 1/8 strips of tin-can sheet metal, shaped as a coupler, maybe from 1933! I knew him and adopted his style but quickly added the “hose” wire and the ramp idea on that kind.

Lon has several other cars with this that may or may not be Nieter purchased in the same lot, including a boxcar that has wires from one truck mysteriously running up inside! From his writings Nieter had some ideas about power distribution that were far ahead of his time (more here), one wonders if that car is related somehow. In any case thank you Lon for sharing these photos of these interesting, very early models.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Modern Hopper Cars for American OO

One car type seen a lot in modern times is the covered hopper. Modern hoppers of all types (2, 3, or 4 bay) were never produced in OO scale.

To solve this problem, Bill Johann did a few conversions, including these two models seen here. One of these two hoppers is seen in a photo on Page 7 of the February, 1994 issue of The OO Road, where he briefly describes the conversion. At that time his note was: “Tyco 4 bay converted to OO, change made to trucks & couplers only.” In the text of the article itself he also notes in general that these “HO cars will look a little low and narrow with respect to a full sized OO car.”

The TYCO car involved is this one, seen here in the TYCO brown box website, but there are many similar models out there that could be used and certainly from the article Johann converted Athearn cars as well.

The interesting thing is he subsequently went back and worked on the car more. Note in the bottom view all the dates? The newest is 9-94, and he at that time converted both cars into three bay hoppers. This certainly gives it more of a scale look, as described in a prior article on another of his hopper conversions: “The key to this conversion was that the original three bay covered hoppers in the 1960s were under 4.500 cubic ft capacity and the newest ones today are over 5,000 cubic feet. This means that a very large HO covered hopper is a pretty good stand in for a small covered hopper in OO.”

And these models I think prove that a very large HO four bay hopper will pass in a pinch for a somewhat smaller OO three bay hopper. These are nice cars I enjoy having on the layout, notable also for the nice decal lettering and weathering. The trucks are his HO conversion trucks described in this article.

I have another similar car, still in its four bay state, that given enough time it would be fun to convert into a three bay car. In the article he also proposes converting these cars into two bay hoppers, which look like a very viable conversion as well. It would however be tempting to do a more involved conversion to obtain a closer to full scale car with the post sides as seen on many covered hoppers -- those sides would be relatively easy to make with sheet plastic and shapes. In any case, these cars are one solution to the modern hopper problem, and one that it will be worth exploring.

Sunday, July 3, 2016

A 3D printed SD24 in American OO

A few months ago I posted about my nearly finished 3D printed SW7 models (which are also seen below, with some revisions to the paint scheme). Those were not the only 3D printed bodies I had though, the other being a SD24.

Big picture, at a distance certainly, this model looks great, it is very effective, and do click on the photo for a good view. When you look at it closely in person, however, the surface is rough and the details somewhat heavy, and it can probably only be successfully lettered for some roads. But I get ahead of myself.

The model itself, credit Jack Bartman for getting the ball rolling. The design was scaled up for him from an N scale model by a Shapeways designer. Sensing that some details might be rough, Jack had a few things taken off, specifically the roof fans and the big vents. The ones you see are HO parts that have been added to the body.

Looking at it, the drive looks good and runs well, and I think one probably would not notice without prompting that the trucks are under scale and the fuel tank is too large. They are from an Athearn HO SD40-2 model, blue box era with plastic side frames. I have by now modified quite a few of these drives for 19MM gauge, with this article describing the basics of the conversion. In this case, the frame only needs slight modification (I cut the ends off) to make for a frame and drive that works well.

To connect the drive to the body I decided the best option was to cut down the original Athearn body to fit inside the SD24 shell, as seen in the final photo. It sat a little too low so styrene shims hold the body at the correct height. The bottom edge of the original Athearn body is just visible but not really, as it is black and disappears under the 3D body.

Couplers were added and connected to wood pads on the body (that had been glued on with super glue). As with the SW7 models I painted it with PolyScale Pullman green paint (see this article for notes on painting 3D printed models) and added decals. The “Quincy Route” decals were added to the SW7 models and to this one. I added a bit of weight to the body as well.

Looping back to the paint scheme, the road is a freelanced road I last built models for in high school. I had the “Quincy Route” decals on hand (Champ decals purchased back then) and it seemed like a good time to use them. My goal with the scheme was to get the look of a 1970s/80s shortline, and I am happy with the result. I drew on Penn Central specifically though to just paint part of the hand rails a lighter color -- the original SW7 scheme I used had more white on the railings but it only emphasized that they were heavy, they have been modified into this revised scheme.

Speaking of the Penn Central, I think their scheme would work well on this model as would PRR, as the schemes are dark (which hides the detail issues) and don't have a lot of lettering. Any complicated scheme would be a nightmare if not impossible to do on this specific model, as the paint actually soaks into the “Strong & Flexible” material of the 3D printing. If it were produced in the FUD material it would paint better and look sharper but the cost is a good bit higher. So that is one to weigh out based on what you want it to look like and your actual budget.

To close I thank Jack again for getting the ball rolling. American OO has entered a new era with 3D printing. As noted in my first article on the Shapeways products, I purchased three FUD Diesel cabs and have three more diesels underway to use them, a dummy GE U23B and two powered SD40 prototypes. Maybe they will be finished this summer? More on them when they are further along, but this article gives a quick look at the start of the SD40 project.

Saturday, July 2, 2016

A Scale-Craft coach and combine for the Santa Fe

In a recent purchase were these two passenger cars, clearly by the same builder with the red interior, but also clearly not completed, as there were no decals.

They are Scale-Craft, examples of their coach and combine. Combine? As noted in another article (here), Scale-Craft  in their final, Round Lake catalog offered a deal to make a combine (including a baggage car body with the coach body), a factory offer of parts for kitbashing the combine in other words.

I think it is a pretty successful model, and the monitor roof is much better for a Santa Fe look than the die cast arch roof they normally supplied with the car. The roofs are freshly painted, the one on the coach coming to me on a different model.

Those die cast bodies must have been a challenge to cut apart! They are joined with glue/screws and a board between both halves of the car.

There are a couple of paint chips but I will live with those. I do like how they look and will be making use of these when I run Santa Fe sessions.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

An almost completed Graceline reefer

Ending this brief series of recent finds posts, this Graceline reefer recently came to me with some other items.

Besides it being a relatively rare item, with the hand painted sides (more on those here), the thing that really caught my eye was it was never completed. Almost completed, but it has clearly been in this same state for years and years.

The trucks are Lionel. One was broken when it got here, I replaced the bolster with an orphan original part. See how nicely they were painted? The roof has a bit of paint loss from storage. And then see that number written in pencil on the car side?

The number keys to numbers on the back of each of the sides which, if you look closely, are not quite the same as they were hand painted. Side one goes on the other side of the car.

The builder seems to have just stopped at this point. Hopefully there was no sad story right then in their life, but here it is today. The car needs ladders, it has never had couplers so it needs those, and of course the sides should be glued on. I really should do the job and finish the car neatly, it is a fine vintage item, but for right now at least I will leave this car as it is.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Unusual, WWII era Nason parts

Among some recent parts purchased was a Nason parts envelope.

It is of the same style as they briefly used to sell decals in 1942 (mentioned in this article), but it did not contain decals, but rather is marked “5 Pr. Freight Car Ends” and also “3 Dr. & 2 Corr.”

The ends are still what are in the packet, painted boxcar red. They are smaller than Eastern ends and on thinner card stock.

In my parts I had a set of the ends in cardboard and one example of the door/end in thin shim brass which is I think explaining the “3 Dr.” on the package. I have several more of these doors as well. Knowing what they are now, maybe they will find their way onto a Nason car.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Remnants of a Hoffmann's reefer

Among some parts recently purchased some unusual parts stood out. At this point I have a pretty good eye for parts, I saw the trucks early on and knew they were Hoffmann's and set them aside.

Then I got to these wood parts and the frames. The frames were not Selley or any maker I recognized easily, and the wood parts were not Picard or Eastern/Famoco or Nason so I knew they were exotic.

Turns out they are from a Hoffmann's reefer, likely from the same car as the trucks. Nearly complete kits for these cars may be seen in this article. If you click over you will see that one of the kits lacks a frame, so I will strip the extra frame and put it with that kit. These cars are really uncommon, available 1938-39.

Then we get to my remnant car. Being so rare it will get a “project box” and will be rebuilt. I wish I had a spare set of Hoffmann's sides to make it really correct. It may emerge with Scale-Rail or Champion sides.

A final note on the trucks, they actually track OK (better than the truck in this article) but I think the wheelsets are likely replacements. In any case, an interesting group of parts I was happy to spot.

Friday, June 10, 2016

A Scale-Craft Coach from the Oklahoma and Western

In a recent lot purchase was this nice Scale-Craft coach. As always, click on the photo for a better view.

Besides being a nice example of a classic (if somewhat common) OO model it caught my eye for several reasons. First off, just for the road name. It is probably lost to history who the brass hat of this road was, but being lettered for a freelanced western road is notable.

The lettering is actually a second set of lettering. If you look carefully, an original set of decals was painted over to allow the current lettering.

Of course the overall paint is a bit worse for the wear over the years but certainly “good enough” for a place in “the collection,” I don’t see it needing fixed further.

The other really notable thing is the car has an interior and lights. When it got here the interior had a number of loose seats but I corrected that situation with some superglue. I like the walls and the rest rooms and the color scheme. I have interior details to do several cars easily -- this is inspiring me to take on that project with upcoming S-C models with the easily removable roofs.

To the lights, I was first thinking they would be dead but actually testing them they all still work. The only issue is that one solder connection has broken. Sometime I should fix that, when I have the iron out again.

I like as well that the Oklahoma and Western at least theoretically might interchange with my line. All in all, this model I think was a nice find and is a reminder that sometimes there are vintage models that just appeal to you, trust you senses.

About Me

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John Ericson has been active in American OO for over 30 years, is a university music professor by profession, and firmly believes everyone needs a hobby.